Buddy the Elf Could Have Been the Greatest Relief Pitcher Ever

Yes, Elf is a Christmas classic. But it’s also a pretty killer audition reel for big-league bullpens.
Buddy the Elf Could Have Been the Greatest Relief Pitcher Ever

The Christmas movie canon is long on festive cheer, and strikingly short on athletes. Kevin McAllister was obviously a defensive mastermind, but he is famously a child who could have been easily overpowered with a better game plan. Same goes for Ralphie from A Christmas Story, who also had very little dawg in him. Clark Griswold is too erratic to be trusted in clutch time. All the people from It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are washed. And before you suggest John McClane and try to start the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” discourse, consider doing anything else. There is but one man, a mythical being of the holiday season, who can carry the Christmas cast to glory in the sporting competition. That man is Buddy the Elf, star of the 2003 Christmas classic Elf.

Buddy, played by six-foot-three, three-sport high school athlete Will Ferrell, is a charmingly naive fish out of water, transported to hectic New York from the North Pole. He is also an athletic marvel. This guy would have been high on several people’s draft boards, assuming their scouting department included a North Pole delegation. Not only does Buddy really fill out his uniform, he unleashes a howitzer of an arm during the film’s high-octane snowball fight scene. Let’s go to the tape.

The first thing we see from Buddy is his ability to take a hit. A snowball clocks him directly in the face, and rather than crumpling in a heap, all we get is “Son of a nutcracker!” Humorous, timely, and shows that he’s not going to get rattled by adversity. Your first thought—as was mine—might be to get Buddy a helmet and let him play quarterback. But then (and maybe this is the elf shoes), as he and his young friend Michael attempt to flee the barrage of snowballs, it becomes clear that Buddy does not possess very much foot speed. He’s a little clumsy, and doesn’t seem to understand how to best utilize his large frame. Theoretically, those long legs would lead to long strides. Not so with Buddy, who is several paces slower than a 12-year-old wearing a heavy coat. That can work with certain quarterbacks, but given the fact that Buddy is from a faraway land and presumably unfamiliar with the ins and outs of American football, he’d need to coast on raw athleticism before truly picking up the nuances of the game. QB3 at best.

Hope isn’t lost, though. After he and Michael have sought shelter in a Central Park rock fixture, we see the wrapping paper removed from Buddy’s inner competitor. “You know what? We can take ‘em!” he assures Michael, and then it’s time for the main event. Leadership and efficiency come first—he clearly instructs Michael to start making snowballs, and then creates his own stash with staggering celerity. Once he’s ready to start dishing out pain, Buddy stuns with an accurate, repeatable throwing motion that leads to several kids getting dotted right between the eyes. (GQ does not condone throwing snowballs at random kids in the park, no matter how well it’ll play for laughs.)

And his crowning achievements come at the end of the skirmish. Buddy drops down to a lower arm angle to peg this one little ne’er do well in the dome. And as the last sucker tries to make a run for it, Buddy airs it out, delivering a perfect shot that makes you think he could really nail the corners of the strike zone. That throw ends the proceedings, making Buddy a closer of sorts.

All of those details—the funky arm slot on the first toss, the “throw it through your target, not at it” component of the second, and the way that he emphatically finishes the game—scream relief pitcher. We’d obviously love to see what Buddy could do as a starter with a more robust innings total, but stamina will eventually come into play. It’d be asking a lot for a guy to drop right out of Santa’s workshop and get through a batting order more than once.

Also—and no disrespect to Buddy, elf culture, or the depth of characters in movies made for children—this guy is pretty simple. During other parts of the flick he lists syrup as a major food group, jams cookies into a VCR, and gets scared shitless by a radiator. Any smart team is going to figure him out pretty quickly. That’s why you’d have to limit Buddy to five or six outs at a time, max. Once you start getting more cracks at him, he’s liable to fall apart. But for those first 20 pitches or so (as clearly demonstrated by the venom he’s putting behind those snowballs), he’d be tough to square up. We don’t know if Buddy has anything resembling an offspeed pitch yet, but that’s why we’re putting him in the bullpen. Let the fastball be his bread and butter, then worry about the secondaries.

You might be thinking that Buddy’s childlike whimsy and severely under-developed street skills would make him an odd culture fit in Major League Baseball. But you’d be wrong. Relief pitchers are always the freaks and geeks of a team anyway. He’d fit right in among the group who mostly sit and chat in isolation for most of the game, physically separated from their teammates in the late innings, developing their own customs and ways of thinking. Buddy is an astonishingly good relief pitcher name, too! (Shout out Buddies Groom, Schultz, and Boshers, who were all relievers.)

You’ve heard of elf on a shelf. Now get ready for Buddy out of the bullpen.